Review from the Author’s Attic: Evermore

An ancient treasure whose location is only revealed by cryptic clues. Two brothers, a scholar and an outlaw, who both seek to win the affections of the long-hidden crown princess. An evil king who will stop at nothing to find both the princess and the treasure. And a startling betrayal in which nothing is as it appears. Evermore, the first book of “The Lost Princesses” trilogy, was a worthy successor to its prequel, Always.

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When Adelaide, the adopted child of a noble family, discovers that she is in fact the crown princess of Mercia, one of three children of the former king and queen, separated from her siblings and hidden when the kingdom was overtaken. And when, on her twentieth birthday,  she learns that the mysterious key she has had for years can help her find a long lost treasure, she sets out on a quest to reclaim the throne. She is accompanied by the two sons of the family who adopted her years before, Mitchell, a scholar who intends to help her find the clues to the hidden treasure, and Christopher, the son who years ago left his family and Mercia to join the band of rebels in the north who oppose the ruling tyrant. Adelaide has long harbored feelings for Christopher, but with her newfound status as queen, she knows her marriage must be for the good of her country rather than the desire of her heart.

This book kept me hooked through every twist, including a massive one that took me by surprise completely! Every detail was important to the plot in some way, and the ending has me waiting to find out what happens next. I love the quest that is unfolding, and I couldn’t help but cheer at the ending!

I feel very fortunate to have been an advance reader for this book, because waiting to find out what happened after reading Always would have been almost impossible!

You can learn more about this book and Jody Hedlund’s others at http://jodyhedlund.com, and you can preorder Evermore here: https://amzn.to/2YAFEE1

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Review from the Author’s Attic

I’ve always been a lover of medieval and fantasy settings in young adult books, and Jody Hedlund’s coming novella, Always,was a wonderful adventure in that genre.

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With the kingdom of Mercia on the verge of falling to a tyrannical king, the dying queen entrusts her handmaid Felicia with the safety of the newborn twin princesses and their older sister, the rightful heir to the throne. Unbeknownst to Felicia, a young soldier, Lance, has been ordered to do the same by the mortally wounded king. When the two both refuse to surrender their sworn duty to the other, their choices set them on a path that will determine the fate of the kingdom, as well as change the course of their lives forever.

This book was full of sweeping vistas of the lands it travels, and memorable characters whose struggles felt real and made me aching to keep turning the pages and find out whether they would succeed. I read the entire novella in a single day, and I’m anxious to follow the continuing story of the lost princesses in the first novel of a coming trilogy, Evermore.

I’m very grateful for the chance to have been an advance reader for this wonderful book, and I’m hoping to see it on the shelves of the library where I work very soon!

You can learn more about this book and Jody Hedlund’s others at http://jodyhedlund.com, and you can preorder Always here…https://amzn.to/2YkXpYt

Pieces of the Past

A lot of the things in my attic are pretty old, and most of them have some kind of history attached to them. I have a book of fairy tales that belonged to my grandpa’s aunt, and more recently I was given a book cover that belonged to my uncle, whose father came from Germany, and a lamp that my grandmother gave as a wedding gift to one of my aunts. All of them, and many more pieces of the past, have their own special places in my attic.

For me, old things are always going to be the most interesting. They often come with stories attached, even if they’ve only been handed down for one generation. If they’ve been well loved, they might even be missing a few pieces or pages, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting to me. I enjoy thinking about what the first person to own that item must have been like, what kind of life they had.

There are usually some fascinating stories attached to things that have been around for a while, even if they haven’t been in the family the entire time. My desk top is two leaves of our dining room table, which used to sit in a furniture store in Fenton until a friend of my dad’s bought the place for his dental office and said my dad could have the table. Inside, it has information to order more leaves, even though the company that made it went out of business a long time ago. I love learning more about the history behind the things and people that have been in this place.

Family history can have some of the most bizarre stories. I’ve heard about a relative who was a police officer in Detroit; who said paper bags laying around could be loot from bank robberies thrown away to conceal evidence. The wooden billy club he used to carry on patrol is still in our house. And my mother’s grandfather was brought over from Russia in a basket, since the only way he was going to be allowed to leave the country was if he was called a cripple.

It’s said that truth is stranger than fiction, and I’ve found that especially true when it comes to history. Whether it’s reading a note in a history textbook about a man who woke up at his own funeral or about the thieves who ‘absconded’ (a personal favorite word) with George Whitefield’s arm while his body was on display, or if it’s listening to the stories passed down in your own family about relatives and friends, history is a wonderful place to start gleaning ideas. A conversation with an older family member, a box of forgotten letters, or even a dusty newspaper clipping might be enough to spark an entire story.

You never know where an idea might come from, and it’s wise not to ignore the past. It’s usually less boring than you might assume, and the next great idea might be lurking somewhere in your own attic…

Method…writing?

You’ve probably heard of method acting, when someone preparing to play a role takes on certain habits and actions of the character they’re planning on playing, in order to start to put themselves in their shoes. I’ve been part of a couple of plays and student films in college, and quickly learned that even giving a character I’m planning on becoming a small verbal or physical tic that is unique to them, and not me, helps me change from being me, to being the person I’m pretending to be.

I also happen to be a method writer. Very often, if I write a character who is capable of doing something unique, I feel like I need to learn to do it too. It can help me write the characters’ actions and thought processes more realistically when I know how it feels to do what they do. I like learning and trying new skills, especially small creative things, so that tends to be the part of my characters’ personality quirks I work on learning the most.

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An origami butterfly made out of part of a book delivery slip

Most recently, that’s been learning to make some simple origami creations. One of the characters in a story I’m currently writing avoids fidgeting and being restless in meetings and other potentially boring situations by making tiny origami plants and animals, and I wanted to know how easy it would be for them to do that and still not draw a huge amount of attention to themselves, and what kinds of creations they could make with post-it notes or other paper pieces small enough to fit in pockets.

Fortunately, that’s a character quirk I can easily imitate. (I’m definitely not trying to keep up with the ones who tame dragons…) I quickly discovered that it really is a good way to fight boredom, especially on slow days at the library desk when you have plenty of hold slips to repurpose. And watching kids get excited about getting a butterfly with their book is definitely worth the occasional paper cut.

It’s fun to learn more about the characters by exploring the things that make them…them. And quite often, I learn something new and fun and exciting that becomes a part of who I am. People often say that you write a lot of who you are into the characters you create, and to an extent that’s true. Many of my characters have quirks and idiosyncrasies that I can immediately recognize come from my own personality. But it’s also true that things I’ve given my characters have shaped me. Sometimes I can even learn some new skill faster if I create a character who is good at it, since that gives me more motivation to want to learn.

I’ve learned that I always remember things I learn much better when I have a good reason to remember them, and adding them to a story is usually the reason that works best for me. Whether you’re looking to motivate yourself to start learning something you’ve always wanted to, or if you already have some special skill you want to share with the world, writing might be a good way to do it!

A Different Kind of Creativity

 

Notebooks and piles of scribbles aren’t the only creative things in my attic. I also have a few paintings that I’ve made over the years, and I have a sketchbook full of random drawings. Some of them have connections to my writing, some don’t. I don’t draw all the time, but there are days when it feels like the writing inspiration has packed its bags and left indefinitely. And I’ve found that the best way to get it back isn’t to shout after it to come back, but to turn around and ignore its disappearance for a while, until it comes knocking again.

Creativity doesn’t just come in one size fits all. Sometimes when you’re stuck on one kind of it, you might need to switch to something else. It’s easier to not burn out when you have more than one thing you can do to let out that creativity. I have friends who write poetry when they have writers’ block (for me writing poetry would be even more stressful than trying to solve my plot holes). Others create digital art. My go-tos are sketching and sometimes painting.

It doesn’t always look that great when I’m done. The pictures I keep out in my attic are the ones I’m proud of, but there are plenty more tucked away in notebooks and boxes that just don’t look anything like the image I saw in my head when I started. Having a mental picture of what I want the final product to be usually means that whatever I come up with is never quite going to measure up.

But then again, some of my writing is like that too. A good idea in the initial phases can end up being a disappointment when you actually draft it. Or the opposite can happen, the story you wrote just for fun, thinking it was going to be silly and bland and just a practice run, might become a favorite. Sometimes the real challenge of being creative is being willing to accept that things don’t always turn out the way you were expecting or picturing.

That doesn’t mean it’s a waste of your time. You learn something from everything you make. Whether that’s how to make eyes more realistic in a painting or how to create character development that feels more organic in a novel. Every project, whether it’s a success or failure, teaches you something new.

So if you feel like you’re stuck in whatever kind of creative medium is your usual, it might be time to try something new. Maybe you’re a painter, and going out to photograph something or sitting down with a favorite piece of artwork and writing about what you imagine is happening in it could kickstart some inspiration. Maybe you write nonfiction, and it’s time to pull out a journal or start sketching some of the historical places you’ve written about. Or maybe you’re like me, and sometimes you just can’t help trying to capture the fictional worlds you bring to life in black and white words on a page, but this time in color, just the way you hope your readers will imagine it.

Review from the Author’s Attic: Steelheart

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This book was a very thought-provoking take on the classic premise of humans gaining superpowers. The idea that giving power doesn’t automatically make someone a hero, and is in fact far more likely to corrupt them, was so different from the normal fairly even split between heroes and villains in most superhero books. The plot was high-stakes and fast paced, but also left space for some amazing character development.

The book centers around David, a teenager who lost his father to the rise of the superpowered “Epic” Steelheart, and his quest to find revenge and free his home city from Steelheart’s control, with the help of humans called the Reckoners who have made it their mission to make Epics who abuse their powers face justice.

I enjoyed the amazing worldbuilding, the careful planning and pacing of the story, and the descriptions that made Sanderson’s world of Newcago come to life. The details gave me the sense that the narrator really did know his city as well as he was supposed to, and also gave a small but engaging glimpse into the ‘normal’ life that has formed since the rise of the Epics.

With an “epic” plot twist ending, this was a story that kept me guessing until the final pages!

Outside Influences

I don’t just write sequestered in my attic. Many times, I think best when I’m in motion, which means taking walks outside, around the farm. I like wandering around the field, enjoying nature, taking pictures of flowers and anything else I think is pretty, and having conversations (often out loud) with my own characters. Writing in peace and quiet in my little attic is all well and good, but I also need to be able to go out and spend time in other places, thinking and planning and getting inspiration from the world around me.

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I’m fortunate to have this view for my thinking walks…

Sometimes it feels like letting other people help inspire your writing is cheating. Whether that’s friends or family offering input, or a fragment of a book you read that spirals off into its own massive idea, taking an idea from somewhere other than your own head sometimes feels alien to the writing process. After all, that’s kind of like plagiarism, right? And one of the worst possible things an author can be accused of is plagiarism…

But the truth is, if I waited around for only ideas that came to me out of thin air, I wouldn’t write much at all. Conversations with friends spark some of the most amazing ideas. Sharing a tiny fragment of a story with someone, even a story I’m never planning on actually working on, can have such a massively good response that I decide to forge ahead with it. Sometimes I’ll be in the middle of reading a novel, when there’s a side character who just won’t stop insisting that they have a very interesting story if only someone took the time to write about a person like them. Or there’s a plot twist that comes out of nowhere and I sit back and think…I didn’t really like that…but maybe I can do it better.

Don’t be afraid to let outside influences affect your writing. Even though it’s true that you can’t just copy someone else’s work, throwing out anything that’s even remotely similar to another story may be just as counterproductive. Everyone has their own way to tell a story, and I can say from experience in the library, there are dozens of different retold fairy tales. There are at least four different teen series with vampires as a main focus. There are bookstore-based murder mysteries everywhere, second only to cat-themed ones. For every book I put on the shelf, I can guarantee that the library’s card catalog will have a “similar books” list that’s at least a page long.

It doesn’t matter if something has been done before. All that matters is that you do it differently. Add your own little flair to whatever it is you’ve always loved reading about. Whether that’s spunky teenage girl sleuths, or time-traveling talking cats, or modern-day fairy tales, you can take any basic premise and make it into your own new world. You have a story to tell that’s uniquely your own, but it doesn’t have to be onlyyour own.